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Beshear to ask federal government to extend tornado clean-up cost coverage

Liam Niemeyer
Kentucky Public Radio

Gov. Andy Beshear says he plans to ask the federal government to extend its 100% coverage of the tornado debris clean-up costs for another 60 days, with ongoing debris clean-up largely unfinished and the anticipated overall costs massive.

Beshear spoke in Mayfield on Monday morning, saying he has the full support for the request from the state’s congressional delegation and that he has notified the federal government of the request. The federal government had been covering 100% of debris clean-up costs for 30 days following the disaster.

“When you look at where downtown Mayfield still is, we know it’s going to take a lot longer than 30 days, and the costs are immense, exceeding $100 million to ultimately clean up that debris,” Beshear said.

In a following press conference Monday afternoon, he said the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers anticipates debris clean-up to be finished by the end of April. If the request would be denied and a 25% local cost-share was implemented for future debris clean-up, Beshear said, the estimated local cost to impacted counties would be about $67 million.

“This is an unprecedented request. I’m asking for something that almost no one’s asked for before,” Beshear said.

He said he believes the overall debris clean-up across the state is only about three percent complete. Local officials in Mayfield praised Beshear for making the request.

“I hated to think that my city, which is so beloved to all of us, would be bankrupt by debris removal before we ever begin to rebuild,” Mayfield Mayor Kathy O’ Nan said. “Just this week, we are starting to look at a rebuilding process. That’s in the works, but we got to get our city almost leveled before we can do that.”

Beshear also said he’s working with local officials to speed up the process to get semi-permanent housing, primarily RVs and trailers, to those displaced by tornadoes and currently living in state park lodges and hotels.

He said state and local officials are trying to find semi-permanent housing that has resale value, saying that in previous disasters elsewhere, some communities and families have been left with trailers sitting alongside rebuilt homes with little market value.

“We don’t want to create an abandoned trailer in front of a new home in multiple blocks of these towns,” Beshear said. “We’re going to try to be thoughtful in how and where we locate people, starting first – especially if we can speed it up – with renters that have kids in the school system.”

He believes the process for getting semi-permanent housing to the region can be sped up by several weeks, with hopes that those displaced can begin to receive semi-permanent housing by next week.

Beshear also said he’s supportive of requests by some districts impacted by tornadoes, including Mayfield Independent Schools, to freeze funding tied to district enrollment for up to the next five years due to the potential for students to leave the community.

Kentucky school districts receive state funding based on student attendance numbers, and previously passed legislation has allowed districts to use attendance numbers from previous school years due to the instability caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. He said he would be in favor of extending the freeze into next the academic year for tornado-impacted districts.

“What I want to try to do, and what I think the General Assembly will do with me, is to provide the types of resources necessary to where these school districts can provide every service these kids need,” Beshear said.

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